Out in Africa: Infantino manoeuvres through CAF, Rwanda and SA pre-CAF elections

February 19 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s latest stop on his tour of Africa during the global health crisis – Africa’s football governance is similarly facing a major health crisis – has been the Central African Republic.

The FIFA boss began his latest African voyage at the opening of the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania before jetting off to Senegal and the Central African Republic where the Prime Minister Firmin Ngrébada bestowed the honour of the National Order of Recognition, awarded in the rank of commander, upon the FIFA supremo.

He also met with president Faustin-Archange Touadéra alongside representatives of the French Football Federation.

The National Order of Recognition is one of those titular awards that perhaps you would rather not be recognised with. The former head of the Central African Republic football federation, who held position for a decade, Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona has this week pleaded not guilty to war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

Ngaïssona and Alfred Yekatom, a rebel leader known as Rambo, are both accused of involvement in atrocities including murder, torture and attacking civilians. The charges stem from their roles as senior leaders in a predominantly Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka that engaged in bitter fighting with the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group in 2013 and 2014 as the country erupted into civil war. Ngaïssona was arrested in November 2018, just 10 months after being elected to the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) executive committee with the support and lobbying of now-disgraced CAF president Ahmad Ahmad.

Almost a year later FIFA banned him for six years and eight months. In their written ruling at the time, FIFA judges cited a number of war crimes including summary executions, torture, mutilation, sexual offences and destruction of mosques.

New prime minister Ngrébada came to power in 2019 after a peace deal was signed between the government and 14 rebel to curb the violence of the civil war.

Infantino’s CAR recognition, whether he likes it or not, links FIFA and football to political manoeuvring in a country where FIFA supported an alleged mass murderer for more than 10 years.

But as Infantino, somewhat naively points out, football is football, and it is played everywhere. And everywhere in Africa seems to be where he is as the Confederation of African (CAF) football prepares for its March vote for a new president.

“The country stops to watch or listen to the radio broadcasts of the matches of the national team,” said Infantino in a statement.

“This is a football country, so it was about time for me to come to Bangui for the first time. FIFA needs to be present where football is played. FIFA has to be everywhere in the world, in all the countries. That’s why it was about time that I’m coming, and I’m happy to be here.”

The country qualified for the first time for a major finals, participating in the current youth edition of the Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania. On the sidelines of formal meetings, the FIFA delegation also discussed the technical support programme, established as a partnership with the local FA and the French Football Federation, the FFF.

Infantino’s next stop is Rwanda today and then on to South Africa where he will attend a press conference alongside CAF presidential candidate Patrice Motsepe in Johannesburg at the weekend. Motsepe and Mauritania Ahmed Yahya are said to be FIFA’s favoured candidates for the CAF presidency and Infantino is wasting no time in the region publicly extending his hand of friendship to them.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1614340894labto1614340894ofdlr1614340894owedi1614340894sni@o1614340894fni1614340894